Friday, November 17, 2023

Napoleon

Napoleon is certainly goofier than expected, especially for a film coming from director Ridley Scott. Screenwriter David Scarpa's script paints the French soldier, and later emperor, who dominated Europe for the better part of two decades as an uncouth petulant cuck forever stuck between his grand ambitious destiny and his love for Jos├ęphine (Vanessa Kirby). The unexpected version of Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) gives the film its unique feel but also obscures the military strategy of a man who conquered half of Europe by really only delving into the plans for his failed campaigns in Russia and at Waterloo.

Napoleon's military conquests are second in importance to the film, far less so, than Napoleon's relationship with his wife. That doesn't mean Scott denies us the expected huge battle sequences including Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. Given it's lighter tone and focus, the film's 158-minute running time is a drag with so much of Napoleon's history being crammed into a single narrative.

Napoleon is most notable for the performances of Phoenix and Kirby, the elaborate set pieces and designs, and the somewhat off-putting humor. Phoenix imbues Napoleon with an angry distain for everything in the world other than his country and his wife. While we get the feeling at times Jos├ęphine is placating him, the film does show the love between the pair throughout his lifetime despite Napoleon divorcing her in search of a woman who could provide him an heir.

It's hard to to view Napoleon and ignore the obvious disdain both Scott and Scarpa have for their protagonist. One could even argue the film is the equivalent of a modern day character assassination. Focusing much more on his foibles and oddities, it never gets around to celebrating his accomplishments as even the military victories he accrues over the first half of the film don't feel attributed to his skill or strategy, although it does showcase the love men under his command had for their military leader. That said, it's an enjoyable film punctuated with strong performances by both leads, although I doubt history teachers will accept it as a point of reference for your child's report on its protagonist's role in history.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Napoleon
  • IMDb: link

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